Dr. George Daley, by his own admission, was "a little-known scientist" working on a cutting-edge field of medicine in 1998 when he met the political powerhouse who would soon become one of the staunchest governmental supporters of his work.
The new field was embryonic stem cell research. And the politician was Sen. Ted Kennedy. The publication of research on the first-ever embryonic stem cell line derived from humans piqued Kennedy's interest in the issue.
"I had personally been working on embryonic stem cells for some years, and there actually were relatively few people working on it at the time," said Daley, who was then part of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass. "So when Kennedy's office called, I was the one to answer the questions.
"The next thing you know, I'm speaking to the entire Democratic Senate caucus at their weekly policy luncheon at the Capitol, seated between [Tom] Daschle and [Harry] Reid and eating the famed bean soup."
Daley is now the director of Stem Cell Transplantation at Children's Hospital Boston and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and one of the country's leading stem cell researchers. But he said that his first few meetings with Kennedy were a humbling experience.
"You're dealing with a legend," he said. "He was obviously larger than life, but he was a very direct and personable individual. He always went out of his way to make me feel that I was important."
Daley is just one of many medical researchers who had the opportunity not only to work with Kennedy in their professional capacities, but also to relate to him on a personal level. Their anecdotes paint a picture of a man who showed great interest in both science and the policies that guided its use and exploration.
While Kennedy's support of medical issues may be eclipsed by his more high-profile crusade for health care reform, the areas of research that Kennedy championed during his 47-year political career were numerous, with some more well-known than others.
"I think it is fair to say that Senator Kennedy did more to advance the care of cancer patients and promote cancer research than any legislator in American history. It is a huge and profound part of his legacy," said Dr. Harold Burstein, an oncologist at Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
In a statement from the American Cancer Society, CEO Dr. John Seffrin said, "Truly one of the great champions in this battle to fight cancer, Senator Kennedy has led a passionate effort against this disease during his more than 40 years in the U.S. Senate, championing health care-related causes from equal access to health care to increased funding for cancer research and screening for early detection."
Among these high-profile conditions, however, were other, less prominent causes that Kennedy championed – including treatment for mental health issues and substance abuse.
"When I met with Senator Kennedy, we were most likely to discuss mental health care or psychiatric research," said Dr. Bruce Cohen, president and psychiatrist-in-chief emeritus of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.